April 7, 2013
In the end, it seemed less a victory than an exorcism.
A startling dominance that Notre Dame held over Connecticut crumbled Sunday night. Not even Tennessee at the height of its power could defeat the Huskies with such assured regularity.
After losing to the Fighting Irish in the past two national semifinal rounds,UConn prevailed on Sunday, 83-65, advancing to the N.C.A.A. title game against Louisville on Tuesday. The Huskies defeated the Cardinals, 72-58 during Big East conference play this season.
Notre Dame (35-2) had defeated UConn (34-4) in seven of their last eight meetings, including three times this year. But the Huskies are a more assured team now. Their freshmen, forwards Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck and guard Moriah Jefferson, have relaxed and matured, no longer seeming to be burdened by expectation.
The 6-foot-4 Stewart delivered a career-high 29 points on 10-of-16 shooting against Notre Dame, along with five rebounds and four blocked shots, hitting 3-pointers and runners and critical free throws. Tuck grabbed seven rebounds, and Jefferson did her part with Kelly Faris defensively to keep Skylar Diggins without a field goal in the first half and shooting a frigid 3 for 15 on the night.
After arriving at UConn as the national high school player of the year, Stewart had a brilliant opening to her college career, but then her confidence ebbed. She said she began thinking too much instead of playing freely, failing to score against Baylor, the defending national champion and shooting 1 for 7 in a defeat against Notre Dame.
But Stewart re-emerged in the N.C.A.A. tournament, and was named the most outstanding player in the Bridgeport Regional. Sunday, she played best game of her young career in the most important game of her career.
“She’s gotten stronger mentally, she’s gotten stronger emotionally,” Coach Geno Auriemma said of Stewart. “Stewie really takes things to heart and puts a lot of pressure on herself. When she wasn’t playing well, she wasn’t strong enough mentally and emotionally to put it aside.”
As the regular season ended, though, Stewart seemed to become liberated.
“There was a renewed, almost like, ‘I’m not going to settle for this anymore; I’m not going to allow myself to feel like this anymore,’ ” Auriemma said.
There have been many UConn players who have delivered big performances during the N.C.A.A. tournament, Auriemma noted, but added: “I don’t remember a player having a better game in this environment. Certainly, I’ve never had a freshman have a game like this in this environment.”
While Stewart and UConn advance to the championship game, Diggins will have the bittersweet commemoration of being an all-American, but one who did not win a national title despite three appearances in the Final Four.
Notre Dame shot only 22 for 74 over all on Sunday as if familiarity, nerves and the importance of the moment left the Irish unsettled. Guard Kayla McBride, who scored more than 20 points each of the three previous games this season against UConn, missed 15 of her 20 attempts Sunday. The Irish clanged 22 of their first 25 shots and never seemed comfortable.
“I thought we looked nervous coming out,” Notre Dame Coach Muffet McGraw said. “I don’t know why. We’ve been here before.”
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, UConn’s leading scorer on the season, who can curiously disappear for long stretches, imposed herself early and late on Sunday to finish with 16 points. UConn finally kept its poise against the Irish and successfully closed out a game after leading in the second half of all seven defeats to the Irish, dating to the 2011 national semifinals.
UConn also received some redemptive guard play from the junior Bria Hartley, who scored a career-high 29 points against Notre Dame as a freshman, but has been erratic and self-doubting much of this season. Sunday, Hartley began the game on the bench and committed six turnovers, but she also provided 15 points, 5 rebounds, 4 steals and blistering speed in transition.
On Tuesday, Auriemma will seek his eighth national title, attempting to match the number won by Tennessee’s pioneering former coach Pat Summitt, whose career was cut short after last season by early-onset Alzheimer’s.
Despite its poor shooting Sunday, Notre Dame led by 26-25 late in the first half. But UConn made a 14-3 run to lead, 39-29, at intermission. Hartley hit a 3-pointer and a jumper to start the run, and Stewart contributed a 3-pointer. The Huskies took a lead they would not surrender.
In the second half, Stewart injured her right shoulder while running through a screen, and Notre Dame drew to within 61-55. But Faris grabbed two offensive rebounds and a missed free throw on the same possession, and Stewart returned to the game. Her swooping runner pulled UConn ahead by 64-55. A pair of free throws by Stewart ended the suspense at 68-55 with 4 minutes 8 seconds left.
“We just played so poorly,” McGraw said. “I thought Breanna Stewart was fantastic, unbelievable. It is real impressive to have a freshman have that type of game, to be the best player on the floor for Connecticut. You don’t expect a freshman to rise to the occasion like that. I thought it was a phenomenal performance.”
He only hoped, Auriemma said, that Stewart could summon one more performance at that level in the title game on Tuesday.
Moriah Jefferson was born on March 18th, 1994 according to http://www.uconnhuskies.com/sports/w-baskbl/mtt/jefferson_moriah00.html
March 18th, 1994
3 + 18 +1+9+9+4 = 44 = her life lesson = Twitter. Tweeting. Tweets. Updates. Here’s what’s happening. I am who I am. It is what it is.
March 18th, 1994
3 + 18 = 21 = her core number = Seeing the big picture. On the world stage. For all the world to see.
March 18th, 1994
18 +1+9+9+4 = 41 = her “secret” number = A menace on the court.
March 18th, 1994
3 + 18 +2+0+1+3 = 27 = her personal year (from March 18th, 2013 to March 17th, 2014) = Starters. Starting players.
27 year + 3 (March) = 30 = her personal month (from March 18th, 2013 to April 17th, 2013) = Blessed. Having a lot to be thankful for.
30 month + 9 (9th of the month on Tuesday April 9th, 2013) = 39 = her personal day = Dream come true.
using the number/letter grid:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
A B C D E F G H I
J K L M N O P Q R
S T U V W X Y Z
A = 1 J = 1 S = 1
B = 2 K = 2 T = 2
C = 3 L = 3 U = 3
D = 4 M = 4 V = 4
E = 5 N = 5 W = 5
F = 6 O = 6 X = 6
G = 7 P = 7 Y = 7
H = 8 Q = 8 Z = 8
I = 9 R = 9
469918 156659165 81
her path of destiny = 81 = Revivals. Reviving hope. Filled with the Holy Spirit.
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